JOSE ESCRIBANO; BRYCE MILLER; ROBERT MILLS; MICHAEL STRAWN; JAMES WILLIAMSON; AL LEBLANC, Plaintiffs - Appellants
TRAVIS COUNTY, TEXAS, Defendant-Appellee
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Texas
DAVIS, SMITH, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.
COSTA, CIRCUIT JUDGE:
a worker is entitled to the Fair Labor Standard Act's
time-and-a-half requirement for overtime pay is an important
question for both employers and employees. Unfortunately, the
answer is not always straightforward. A number of exemptions
take employees outside the FLSA. Byzantine regulations define
those exemptions. Informal Department of Labor guidance in
the form of opinion letters also tries to clarify the
exemptions. Then there can be exceptions to the exemptions.
Figuring out if an exception brings the employee back under
the FLSA may require looking at yet another set of
regulations and agency guidance.
FLSA case involved one of those multilayered classification
determinations. The facts were not complicated, so the trial
lasted less than a week. But confusion over two possible
exemptions, as well as an exception to those exemptions,
caused the posttrial litigation to last more than two years.
The result was a ruling that the employer had established as
a matter of law one element of proving the exemptions.
Remaining questions about the exemptions and exception would
have to be decided by a jury at a second trial. But the
employees elected not to pursue the new trial. Instead they
put all their eggs in the appellate basket, seeking to
overturn the court's ruling that the employer had proven
one element of the exemptions. Because both their procedural
and substantive challenges to that posttrial ruling come up
empty, we AFFIRM.
Travis County Sheriff's Office detectives filed this suit
alleging that they were entitled to overtime pay. The County
was not paying the detectives additional amounts when they
worked overtime, so the only issue was whether the detectives
were exempt from the FLSA. The County argued that the
detectives were exempt as both executive and
highly-compensated employees. 29 C.F.R. §§
541.100(a), 541.601(c). The detectives contended that those
exemptions did not apply, and even if they did, they were
still entitled to overtime pay under the first-responder
exception to those exemptions. 29 C.F.R. § 541.3(b).
the exemptions the County asserted apply only if the
employees are paid on a salary basis. We will get into the
details of the "salary basis" requirement later,
but it generally means what its label suggests: an employee
is paid on a salary basis if he or she receives the same wage
each pay period, regardless of "the quality or quantity
of the work performed." Id. § 541.602(a).
employees on a salary basis is not the only requirement for
the executive or highly-compensated-employee exemptions.
Important to understanding the jury's verdict and the
procedural history that followed, both exemptions require an
employer to prove more. Even if the County was paying the
detectives on a salary basis, the executive exemption
required the County to also show that the detectives: (1)
were paid at least $455/week; (2) were primarily managers; (3)
"customarily and regularly direct[ed] the work of"
at least two other employees; and (4) had hiring and firing
authority, or that their suggestions as to "hiring,
firing, [or] promotion" were "given particular
weight." Id. § 541.100(a). The
highly-compensated-employee exemption required the County to
also show that the detectives: (1) were paid at least
$455/week; (2) earned at least $100, 000 annually; and (3)
"customarily and regularly perform[ed] any one or more
of the exempt duties or responsibilities of an executive,
administrative or professional employee . . . ."
Id. § 541.601(a).
liability turned on whether an exemption applied, the verdict
form started with questions about the contested elements of
the two exemptions the County asserted. The first asked
whether the County had proven by a preponderance of the
evidence that the detectives were "compensated on a
salary basis." The jurors answered "no" for
each detective. This finding meant neither exemption applied,
and that meant the first- responder exception did not matter.
So the jury went straight to determining the detectives'
months later, the district court entered judgment for the
detectives, adding liquidated damages and postjudgment
interest to what the jury awarded. The end of the district
court litigation appeared to be in sight.
turned out, the litigation was just getting started. Within
thirty days of the entry of judgment, the County filed the
customary Rule 50(b) motion seeking judgment as a matter of
law. It argued that no rational jury could have found that
the detectives were not paid on a salary basis. The detectives
conditionally moved under Rule 59 for a new trial. In the
event the court granted the County's motion on the salary
issue, the detectives wanted a new trial to determine whether
their primary duty was front-line law enforcement or
management. That answer would resolve the executive exemption
and first-responder exception. At this time at least, the
detectives understood that vacatur of the jury's answer
to the salary question would require a new trial for
district court agreed with the County, ruling as a matter of
law that the detectives were paid a salary. Having vacated
the jury's finding on this first requirement of the
exemptions, the district court also granted the
detectives' request for a new trial. At a new trial, the
court explained, the jury would determine whether the
detectives primarily performed office work and, as a result,
were exempt as highly-compensated employees.
detectives sought reconsideration, contending that they had
conditionally asked for a new trial on the management issue,
an element of the executive exemption and first-responder
exception, not on the office-work issue, which is part of the
highly-compensated-employee exemption. The reconsideration
motion confused the district court. The court explained that
undoing the jury's "no salary" finding left the
ultimate exemption question unresolved. With the court now
having ruled that the County had proven the first element of
both the executive and highly-compensated-employee
exemptions, a new trial would be needed to determine if the
County could prove the remaining elements of either
exemption. So the court asked the detectives to clarify how
they wanted to proceed.
than taking the hint that they needed to challenge both
exemptions in a new trial, the detectives changed course;
they no longer wanted a new trial on any issues and
"unequivocally withdr[e]w" their Rule 59 motion.
The detectives instead moved for the reentry of judgment in
their favor on the ground that the parties had stipulated to
the prima facie elements of an FLSA overtime claim
and the County had failed to prove an exemption at trial.
again explaining why its vacating the jury's "no
salary" finding meant a new jury needed to answer the
remaining questions about the exemptions, the district court
refused to enter judgment for the detectives. It then
withdrew the detectives' request for a new trial given
that they no longer wanted one.
their ground, the detectives again sought judgment on the
jury's verdict. The district court denied that request as
an untimely motion for judgment as a matter of law. The court
repeated what it had already "explained several
times": its posttrial ruling that the County paid the
detectives on a salary basis meant the only way to move
forward with the case was for a new trial that would answer
the remaining questions about whether the FLSA covered the
detectives. Despite the detectives' insistence that they
no longer wanted a new trial, the court gave them about a
month to request one. If the detectives did not seek a trial
within that period, the court would dismiss the case for want
broken record kept playing. Rather than asking for the new
trial, the detectives yet again asserted-out of procedural
vehicles, this time in a "motion for
clarification"-that they had stated a FLSA overtime
claim; that the grant of judgment on the salary issue did not
invalidate the "prima facie portion of the
verdict"; and that the County was not entitled to
another opportunity to prove its affirmative defenses. The
detectives also contended that dismissal for failure to
prosecute would be "an incredibly unjust result."
If the court did not enter judgment in ...